Monthly Archives: July 2006

Two-week Roundup – Paradise Lost

The career of comedian Yamamoto Keiichi (photo right, 38) looks to be at an end following a drunken assault on an underage girl. The incident took place earlier this month at a hotel in Hakodate and was reported by the girl to local police. Yamamoto and partner Kato Koji (photo left, 37) make up the duo Gokuraku Tombo (which translates as Dragonfly of Paradise). They are with the major Yoshimoto Kogyo management agency, who immediately announced that they were severing ties with the popular funny man. It was later reported that the duo would be breaking up. A number of scheduled TV shows with scenes including Yamamoto were either cancelled, postponed or edited. Fuji TV found themselves in a bind as their drama “Tokyo Tower” featured him in a prominent role. They decided to reshoot scenes and reschedule the broadcast for the autumn. Kato has also been forced to drop out of several shows that he co-hosted with his former sidekick but is likely to bounce back. Yamamoto was involved in an incident in 2002, when he was charged with indecency after dropping his pants during a performance at Obirin University.

• Kyogen performer Izumi Motoya (32) just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Scandal has plagued him over the last few years, and the latest incident saw his car collide with a scooter ridden by a Tokyo high school boy. The accident happened as Izumi’s car turned to enter a family restaurant and hit the scooter. The boy suffered minor bruising.

• Former Morning Musume member Tsuji Nozomi (19) fell from the stage during a recent concert performance in Tokyo and suffered minor injuries. She fell from the 1.8m high stage as the assembled Hello! Project members greeted fans at the end of the show. The group’s nationwide tour had just one more show remaining. Tsuji was taken to hospital, and was said to have suffered bruising and a sprained ankle.

• A couple of libel cases were settled recently. The Tokyo District Court ordered publisher Kodansha to pay ¥4.4 million yen to actress Hirosue Ryoko (26) for a magazine article that portrayed her as a neglectful mother. The article in the Shukan Gendai weekly also suggested that she drinks too much at host bars. Meanwhile the Gorgeous Kano Sisters, no strangers to this kind of case, were awarded a payment of ¥660,000. They sued actress Okada Miri (44) for ¥11 million after she suggested on a variety show that they had tried to seduce her new husband. Though she didn’t actually use their names, she referred to them as “those famous sisters”. Okada is the former wife of “Saiyuki” (Monkey) star Sakai Masaaki (59).

• Happier news for a few celebrities. Fuji TV announcer Uchida Kyoko (30) married Yoshimoto Kogyo employee Kimoto Kimitoshi (33) in Tokyo last week. Da Pump member Ken (26) also got married during the week, as his new 30-year old bride’s mother registered their marriage at the local city office. The union puts the seal on a 9-year relationship. Singer/actor Matsudaira Ken is to become a dad for the first time at the age of 52. His second wife Yuriko (38) is expecting a baby in November. Perennially tanned singer Matsuzaki Shigeru has gone even better, announcing that his wife (33) is expecting their third child. Matsuzaki is 56.

(As I’m traveling outside Japan, news updates are sporadic until mid-August)

Men Behaving Badly

Kabuki actor Nakamura Shido (photo, 33) is suffering considerable backlash from a recent drunk driving incident. NHK has decided not to give him a leading role in its upcoming drama series “Hagetaka”. Several companies that use the popular actor in their commercials, including Mandom, Morinaga and UC Card, are also reconsidering their contracts. Nakamura was questioned by police after running a red light and being found over the limit on July 12.

• Former Southern All Stars band member Omori Takashi (49) and his wife Ryoko (52) are currently on trial for possession of amphetamine drugs. Prosecutors have sought a prison sentence of three and a half years for Omori and eighteen months for his wife. Both have admitted to the offence and pleaded for clemency at the Yokohama District Court. Sentencing is expected to be on July 19. Omori said his drug habit went back four or five years, but court documents show his first use was more like 15 years ago. As he was an SAS guitarist as recently as 2001, there is bound to be speculation about the habits of the other remaining band members.

• Meanwhile, SAS vocalist Kuwata Keisuke (50) teamed up with Mr. Children singer Sakurai Kazutoshi (36) for the first time in 11 years. With a rousing, rain and sweat-drenched performance, they closed the “ap bank fes06” festival in Tsumagoi in Shizuoka Prefecture on Saturday. They performed several songs, including their 1995 collaborative mega-hit “Kiseki no Chikyu” (Miraculous Earth). The 3-day event with an environmental theme drew 75,000 fans who came to see a lineup of 19 acts.

• Young actress Morisako Ei (8) is to take on the role of Heidi. Chosen from tens of thousands of hopefuls to play the lead role in the recent live action version of Chibi Maruko-chan, her next challenge will be to be the voice of the world’s most famous little Swiss girl. She will play the lead role in the Japanese dub version of the British animation movie “Heidi”. The character has been popular in Japan since a TV anime series ran in the 1970s.

Kiyoshiro Treated for Cancer

Rock singer Imawano Kiyoshiro (55) has been hospitalized for treatment of cancer of the larynx. His busy summer schedule of live performances has all been canceled. The news was announced on his official website, which said he was admitted to hospital long-term on Tuesday. The charismatic singer responded to the news in his usual manner saying he hoped to enjoy this new experience and aspect of his life. The former vocalist of 80s band RC Succession first noticed a problem with his throat in late June, when he was in the studio recording a new album. Though his live dates have been canceled, the album is still set to be released in October. Imawano was scheduled to perform at five different outdoor festivals during the summer. He took up cycling as a serious hobby about six years ago, gave up his smoking habit three years later, and even entered in an international race event in Hawaii last year.

• Ryoji (31), vocalist of popular hip hop group Ketsumeishi, and actress Ishikawa Asami (28) got married yesterday. The marriage announcement, sent by fax to the media, came out of the blue but the couple had been going out for about a year and nine months. Ryoji – real name Otsuka Ryoji – divorced his first wife in August of last year just two months after the release of Ketsumeishi’s hugely successful album “Ketsunopolis 4”, which sold over 2 million copies. According to the fax statement, Ishikawa is currently 3 months pregnant, the newlyweds won’t be giving a press conference and have no plans for wedding ceremony. Ishikawa plans to continue working into the autumn and also resume her career after childbirth.

Koda Kumi’s a Klass Act

Koda Kumi (24) has showed again that she is in the top bracket of female J-pop stars. Her live DVD “Secret – First Class Limited Live” has finally overtaken Hikki to sell the most copies by a solo artist. The over 300,000 copies sold has outpaced Utada Hikaru’s DVD of her 2000 debut concert series. Koda’s DVD performances are from last summer’s concert at Tokyo’s Shinkiba Studio Coast. Released last September, it features the raunchy style thaqt is common among foreign artists but for which the Japanese had to create a new adjective – “erokawaii” (erotic cute). The DVD went to No.1 in the oricon charts last October and has stayed in the Top 100 for 42 weeks.

• Backstreet Boys member Brian Littrell (31) performed for 1,000 invited fans at a store event in Tokyo yesterday. The event was in support of his recently released debut solo album. He performed four tunes from “Welcome Home” and introduced his 3-year old son Bailey on stage.

• Fashion model Mori Izumi (23) is to make her acting debut. She will appear in next Tuesday’s episode of NTV’s weekly “Drama Complex”, entitled “59-banme no Puropozu” (59th Proposal), in which she plays a supporting role to star Fujiwara Norika (35). The grand-daughter of world famous fashion designer Mori Hanae (80), the half-American Izumi has benefited from the recent trend for fashion models to make the move to television. She has been a regular co-presenter on NTV’s talk show “Oshare-ism” since last year, though her role has been mostly decorative.

• “Goth Lolita” fashion leader Kitade Nana (19) is make her U.S. debut. She will perform at the Otakon anime festival, to be held in Baltimore on August 4-6, as well as in San Francisco, New York and Boston. The live dates, somewhat grandiosely called “Nana Tea Party World Tour”, are in support of her debut album “18”, which goes on sale in the U.S. today and has sold over 100,000 copies here. Her connection with anime is that she performed the theme song for the series “Fullmetal Alchemist”, commonly known in Japan as “Hagaren”. Last year, she was the first Japanese to perform at the Hong Kong Comics Festival.

Heeere’s Johnny!

Johnny Depp in TokyoHollywood star Johnny Depp (43) arrived in Japan yesterday to promote the latest “Pirates of the Carribbean” movie. The crowds grew at Narita Airport during the morning as producer Jerry Bruckheimer and co-star Orlando Bloom (29) also flew in separately. But the biggest reception came from 3,500 screaming fans as Depp arrived from Paris on a private jet around 1:20pm. He was accompanied by 9 people including his sister. “Dead Man’s Chest” opened on Friday in a massive 4,133 cinemas across the US, the third-largest opening ever. Depp and the other cast and crew members are scheduled to give a press conference today before attending the Japan premiere, and the movie will open in theaters here on July 22.

• Russian talento Solntsev Ivan (24) has been arrested for drug possession. He was questioned by police in Tokyo’s Roppongi district on July 1 because his car was illegally parked. They found 1.9 grams of marijuana in his rucksack. One half of Ivan & John, the first non-Japanese duo of assistants on the daily Fuji TV variety show “Warratte Iitomo”, the Moscow native has lived in Japan since he was a boy. He and American John were the 12th pair of regular assistants on the record-breaking afternoon show, appearing for three years until March 2006. They would do a little dance routine to warm up the studio audience before the arrival of emcee Morita “Tamori” Kazuyoshi (61), who has hosted the show every weekday afternoon since 1982. This longevity has earned him and the show a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

• Fashion model Mori Izumi (23) is to make her acting debut. She will appear in next Tuesday’s episode of NTV’s weekly “Drama Complex”, entitled “59-banme no Puropozu” (59th Proposal), in which she plays a supporting role to star Fujiwara Norika (35). The grand-daughter of world famous fashion designer Mori Hanae (80), the half-American Izumi has benefited from the recent trend for fashion models to make the move to television. She has been a regular co-presenter on NTV’s talk show “Oshare-ism” since last year, though her role has been mostly decorative.

• Musicians Imai Chihiro (31) and Matsumoto Eiko (27) tied the knot in Tokyo on Saturday. Imai, a member of the folk group Something Else, and his bride wore matching white outfits. The wedding and reception were attended by about 100 family members and celebrities.

• The late singer Misora Hibari may have been one of the greatest Japanese legends of the 20th century, but fan interest seems to be waning. A Kyoto museum dedicated to the star is set to close in November due to declining visitor numbers. “Kyoto Arashiyama Misora Hibari Kan” opened in 1994, five year’s after her death, and welcomed over 3 million visitors in the first four years. But as many of her fans have now reached old age, the numbers have dropped considerably.

NHK in Spotlight Again

NHK recently broadcast a history program that repeatedly showed the British flag upside down. Not exactly a major diplomatic incident but the failure of staff responsible to take appropriate action led to an apology at the British consulate on Wednesday and on air last night. One look at the Union Jack reveals that it’s not an easy mistake to spot, but one eagle-eyed viewer did notice it and contacted NHK. The error was in the June 21 edition of the history program “Sono Toki Rekishi ga Ugoita”. The viewer had noticed the error in a preview of the show and called the Osaka bureau to inform them. The producer decided it was not worth the time and expense involved in correcting it. The same viewer called NHK again after the show was broadcast unchanged and received an apology, but the producer failed to report the matter to management. The matter came to light after a weekly magazine contacted NHK with questions.

• NHK also received more than 2,400 telephone calls from viewers upset about the sudden rescheduling of programs on Wednesday morning that followed the North Korean launch of several missiles. Affected programs included the live coverage of the World Cup and the morning drama series. While the changes may have annoyed some, viewership of NHK’s news shows that day was about double the average. The public broadcaster has also started sending out letters to households that have failed or refused to pay annual subscription fees. Letters were sent to homes in Tokyo yesterday with the rest of the country to follow, but it remains to be seen how the over 1 million “mibarai” viewers nationwide will respond.

A Rude Awakening

The recent early-morning test launch of a missile by North Korea caused NHK to alter its broadcast schedule abruptly for the first time since the Great Hanshin Earthquake 11 years ago. NHK had the scoop on the story over the other networks by about 15 minutes and broke into its live coverage of the World Cup semi-final between Germany-Italy. During the second half, coverage of the soccer game was switched to the NHK Education channel. The daily morning drama was dropped for the first time since January 1995, as was its scheduled afternoon re-run and much of the day’s programming. The missile itself is said to have failed about 40 minutes after launch and posed no threat to Japan. But the fact that it was launched at all has considerably raised tensions in the region.

Johnny’s Jimusho band KAT-TUN member Kamenashi Kazuya (photo, 20) romances an older woman, played by Ito Misaki (29), in the highly anticipated upcoming Fuji TV drama series “Sapuri”. At a PR event yesterday, the media were expressly forbidden to ask any questions about Kamenashi’s rumored real-life romance with former idol singer Koizumi Kyoko (photo, 40). Some reporters tried to subtly tie it into questions about how he prepared for the TV romance with an older woman, but they were simply ignored. The series will air from July 10 at 9pm on Mondays, the hottest time slot for dramas.

• Singer/actress Tsuchiya Anna (22) and model Joshua (23) have divorced, it was revealed yesterday. They married in June 2004 and had a son the following November. Tsuchiya will have custody of the child. Joshua is the younger brother of talento Kozue Rin (26).

• Baseball legend Oh Sadaharu (66) has been forced to take a break from his duties as manager of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks to undergo surgery for a tumor in his stomach. Among the celebrities wishing him well was enka singer Yashiro Aki (55), a long-time close friend to whom Oh gave the bat he used to hit his world-record 846th home run.

Yoon Finally Finds Love

Someone has finally won the heart of Japan-based Korean beauty Yoon Sona (30). Renowned for her “majime” (seriousness) and refusal to enter into relationships easily, the popular talento surprised everyone with yesterday’s announcement of her engagement. Her eligibility has been used more than once on variety shows that try and fix celebrities up with each other, but she has refused every time. The man who has finally won her over is described as a 36-year old Korean entrepreneur, who runs businesses connected with the movie industry and restaurants in Seoul. They are said to have been introduced by a mutual friend in March and, with the approval of both sets of parents, have already planned their wedding. It will be held at the plush ShinRa Hotel in Seoul on September 16. Yoon, who plans to continue her career in Japan, shuttling back and forth to Seoul, will hold a press conference at the hotel on Friday. An up and coming star of Korean TV drama, Yoon gave it up to come to Japan six years ago. The timing couldn’t have been better, as it was before the co-hosted World Cup in 2002 and the subsequent boom in Korean culture here. She has mastered the Japanese language and established herself as a regular on the variety show circuit as well as appearing in TV dramas. She has also launched a singing career using the name Sona.

• Another Asian starlet was back in Japan for the first time in four years. Taiwanese talento Vivian Tsu (31) was in Tokyo to promote the movie “Kutsu wo Koisuru Ningyo” (The Shoe Fairy). She met up with comedy duo Kyaeen, with whom she recorded a hit single “Timing” back in the 90s, when she was a TV regular here.

• “Hero”, Monday’s one-off reprisal of the hugely successful 2001 Fuji TV drama, managed a very respectable 30.9% audience rating. It is the 7th-highest rating for the year, and the best by a non-sports related show. With SMAP heart-throb Kimura Takuya (33) in the lead role, the show’s success was hardly a surprise – the original managed over 30% for each of its 11 episodes. But with a subtitle announcing the retirement of soccer star Nakata Hidetoshi appearing on the screen just after the show started, it was perhaps only the idol appeal of Kimutaku that could have kept viewers from changing the channel.

The End of a Soccer Era

Japan’s most successful soccer star Nakata Hidetoshi (29) shocked the country with the announcement of his retirement yesterday. He issued a statement on his official website,, saying “About six months ago, I decided to end my ten-year career in professional football, making the World Cup in Germany my final event before retirement. There was no one particular event that triggered this. And there is no single reason behind my decision.” This was no doubt an effort to dispel speculation that he was devastated by Japan’s lackluster performance at the World Cup. He added, “But what I can say now is that I felt that it was time for me to graduate from the journey of professional football, and set out on a new journey.” The media are already speculating on the chances of a career in the media. Nakata currently has sponsorship contracts with five major companies and is a regular in TV commercials. He is in the same class as Major League baseball stars Ichiro and Matsui Hideki, making ¥50-100 million a year for commercials. While sports stars usually lose commercial value when they retire, Nakata’s World Cup performance and analysis and the timing of his retirement are thought to have sponsors and media outlets coveting him even more.

• Actress Shaku Yumiko (28) is romantically involved with another company president. According to the latest issue of Shuukan Josei women’s magazine, Shaku is dating Nojiri Yoshitaka (33), CEO of bridal planning startup Take and Give – Needs. The company is listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange and Nojiri is considered one of japan’s most eligible bachelors. The pair are said to have met while Shaku was working on a recent drama series and started off as “meerutomo” (e-mail friends). They started dating after filming finished in mid-June, and were spotted together at a kabuki performance in Tokyo on June 24. Shaku was previously involved with Tanigawa Hiroto (35), president of the management agency that represents singer Misia. They are said to have broken up in January 2005. Meanwhile, Nojiri was linked with TV Asahi announcer Takeuchi Emi (29) at the end of last year, but they split up in the spring.

• This year’s Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival has been cancelled due to financial problems. The festival’s executive committee said they currently have no plans to restart the event, which has been held every autumn since 1985.

Comedy in Surprising Places

Comedy made a surprise visit to the Imperial family on Sunday. Popular young comedy duo Oriental Radio were the celebrity guests at NTV’s 26th national high school quiz, recorded at the Jingu Stadium in Tokyo. Fujimori Shingo (photo right, 23) was in the baseball stadium with 6504 high school students from the Kanto area as announcer Suzuki Takashi gave out the first question. Contestants had two choices, “maru” (true) or “batsu” (false). The correct answer was to be given by Fujimori’s comic partner Nakata Atsuhiko (photo left) landing in the “maru” space by parachute. Accompanied by an instructor, Nakata jumped from a helicopter at about 2,000m, but the pair were caught by a sudden gust of wind and blown off course. The instructor aimed for the nearest open space about a kilometer away, which unbeknownst to him was inside the Akasaka Imperial Palace grounds. The palace is home to the Crown Prince and his family, making a intrusion a serious breach of security. But the pair got away with a stern warning from the Imperial Guards. Meanwhile, back at the stadium, home of the Yakult Swallows baseball team, dance/vocal unit AAA were performing the quiz’s theme song “Q”. The show will air on NTV September 1.

• The Yoshimoto Kogyo travelling comedy roadshow hit Los Angeles at the weekend and got a rousing reception. The troupe, led by Imada Koji and including other stars like Higashino Koji, Yamada Hanako and Razor Ramon HG (Hard Gay), performed a new two and a half hour show called “Sapuraizu Darake no Uedingu” (Wedding Full of Surprises). It was the first show by a Japanese theatrical group at the famous Kodak Theater, home of the annual Academy Awards show. The audience of 2,600 was made up almost entirely of Japanese living in the city, but the arrival of the show got a 2-page spread in the L.A. Times that asked, “Will Japanese Humor Travel Well?”

• “Limit of Love”, the sequel to the successful movie “UmiZaru” (Sea Monkeys), was recently shown at the N.Y. Asian Film Festival, and it was announced yesterday that a major Hollywood studio is interested in remaking the original. The story of romance and friendship among a group of Japan Coast Guard trainees was one of the big summer hits of 2004 and made a star of Ito Hideaki. Its sequel has done equally well this year, so far pulling in ¥6.5 billion at the box office.